The Dodgers’ success isn’t built on offense, which is why the loss of Matt Kemp for the postseason and Andre Ethier from the starting lineup was never viewed as major.
Big, yes. Major, not really.
The Dodgers’ strength lies in their pitching, in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. So although they displayed some clutch hitting in beating the Atlanta Braves 6-1 Thursday to win the National League Division Series opener, it was Kershaw who stood front and center.
Here are three takeaways from Game 1:
1. The Sure Thing This is how good Kershaw is: On a night he would probably admit he didn’t have his best stuff, he still dominated the Braves.
Kershaw didn’t have much confidence in his curveball — the lone exception was a big hook that froze pinch-hitter B.J. Upton in the fifth — and he bounced too many sliders in the dirt. But he still struck out 12, the most by a Dodgers pitcher since Sandy Koufax fanned 15 Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series. He also had six in a row at one point.
In seven innings, Kershaw threw 124 pitches, just eight fewer than his career high set in May, but he wouldn’t pitch again unless there’s a Game 5 on Wednesday, giving him five days’ rest between starts.
2. In the clutch Kershaw didn’t receive much run support during the season, but his offense gave him a 2-0 lead in the second inning, a 4-0 lead in the third and a 5-0 lead in the fourth. How? Two-out hits.
In fact, four of the Dodgers’ first five runs were produced by two-out hits, including Adrian Gonzalez’s two-run homer off Braves starter Kris Medlin in the third. Skip Schumaker, who started in center field for Ethier (and Kemp), started the scoring with a sacrifice fly, and catcher A.J. Ellis followed with a run-scoring double, both with two outs.
Nothing is more secure than a 5-0 lead for Kershaw. This season, he gave up five runs just once in 33 starters – and never allowed six.
3. Breaking bad defense The Braves have to keep games close so they can call on their superb bullpen late in games, but they won’t do that if they play poorly on defense, as they did Thursday.
Part of their problem is that B.J. Upton was benched because of his awful hitting (1 for 36 at one point in September). That meant right fielder Jason Heyward had to move to center and Evan Gattis, a catcher by trade, started in left.
Their misplays proved critical. On a second-inning single to center by Juan Uribe, Heyward failed to throw to third base as Puig, who was on first, never stopped, taking third with a head-first dive. Then, on Schumaker’s sacrifice fly to center, Heyward missed the cutoff man, which let Juan Uribe take second. He scored on A.J. Ellis’ double.
On that double, Gattis made an ill-advised attempt at a diving catch and looked awkward doing it, although Uribe would have scored anyway. And while this has nothing to do with defense, Gattis let himself get doubled off first base by Puig on Chris Johnson’s fly ball to right in the bottom of the second.
All in all, a bad night for the Braves — and a good start for the Dodgers.